High-speed Durban-Joburg rail link a 'nonstarter', roads evangelist argues

Posted On Thursday, 14 September 2006 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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A high-speed rail link between Johannesburg and Durban, which the Department of Transport (DoT) had “agreed to in principle” and was awaiting approval for, was an “absolute nonstarter”, Arup South Africa transport economics adviser Andrew Marsay argues.

Infrastructure IndustryA high-speed rail link between Johannesburg and Durban, which the Department of Transport (DoT) had “agreed to in principle” and was awaiting approval for, was an “absolute nonstarter”, Arup South Africa transport economics adviser Andrew Marsay argues.

His argument is centred on the fact that the capital required for development of the proposed rail link, with a journey time that the DoT said will be three hours, would not be validated by the revenue it generates.

He proposed that the government should rather create dedicated road capacity for freight between the two cities.

Marsay, who is regarded as something of a roads evangelist, having worked on big transport-policy matters in the UK before relocating to South Africa, argues that a new dedicated freight-only highway would cost some R15-billion over 10 years, and would add 36-million tons of capacity to the route.

State-owned rail utility Spoornet CEO, Siyabonga Gama , had estimated that the proposed rail development would cost some R30-billion, but said that it was being investigated.

“New freight capacity can be created four times more efficiently in the road mode rather than in rail,” Marsay said.

Also significant to his argument was that it was difficult to transport freight at high-speeds, and lengthy handling times at the Durban Port and City Deep depots would more than cancel out the benefits of having a three-hour trip.

He pointed out that currently it could take as long as six days to send freight between Durban and Johannesburg by rail, whereas it only took 36 hours by truck.

“Although rail is generally cheaper, customers are often willing to pay more than double to ensure that their goods arrive timeously,” Marsay said.

He stressed that rail was an inefficient mode of transporting general cargo, but was still relevant in South Africa for carrying bulk freight, for which it had the appropriate technology.

Although Marsay noted that it would be possible to overcome the topographical challenges posed by developing a high-speed Johannesburg-Durban rail line, the level of engineering required would be significantly high, he emphasised.

To substantiate his argument regarding the financial aspects of the proposed line, Marsay pointed out that another high-speed rail link, the Eurostar, which runs between London, Paris and Brussels, was not doing well operationally, with its revenue barely covering its operating costs.

“The capital for this project was supposed to have been procured from the private sector, but the public sector ended up subsidising near on two-thirds of the capital outlay,” he stated. This was largely caused by the deregulation of the airways in Europe, which occurred during the construction of the rail network, which saw a significant decrease in the price of air travel, Marsay said, adding that this discouraged investment in the Eurostar.

South Africa has also undergone airways deregulation, which has led to the strong emergence of low-cost air carriers in the country.

“It would be much cheaper, and quicker to fly to Durban from Johannesburg,” Marsay noted.

A flight from Durban to Johannesburg takes less than an hour.

 

Last modified on Monday, 04 November 2013 09:59

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